Follow the late summer sun shining on wasps’ wings – they could lead you to sweet treats. Grapes. The last of the summer berries, and autumn raspberries. Pears and apples ripe on the tree. And if you’re lucky enough in your geography – figs!!
When I was a girl, figs came only dried, and only at Christmas. So when did my sensual entrancement with the ripe, fresh fruit start?
It could have been all in my mind, in the beginning.
I remember reading something wonderfully erotically suggestive about eating figs, splitting the skin and sinking your mouth into the honeyed, slightly sticky sweetness. Was it D H Lawrence? I can’t find the passage, searching in my usual places. But the idea of the fig as something decadent, something opulent and voluptuous… that was in my mind, predisposing my mouth, when the real fruit came along.
We’ve planted a fig tree in Kapiti now, and eaten the first fruit from that.
But the fig-feasts I remember best come from “unclaimed” trees. There was the one along the road from Marilyn and Warren’s family bach in Wainui Inlet.
Just occasionally the timing of our visit would be right, and we could pull on branches to reach the fruit.
Then there were two trees in an unofficial car-park in Kilbirnie. Fig trees in Wellington – who would have thought it? And for a while, it seemed I was the only person who knew. Then I met someone else with a shopping bag and a large smile… and then next season, only new asphalt.
But bliss – more fig-trees than I could imagine, on the Dalmatian coast. Our most-visited were three on our morning daily path to the ocean one holiday in Rabovic. They were dropping their fruit on the ground. That made, we thought, for guilt-free reaching up to rescue ripe fruit from what would otherwise have been a squishy end. Our holiday-apartment host must have noticed, and brought in a big basket of figs from his own trees – perhaps to protect his neighbours.
The moral imperative to not leave ripe figs to the wasps and starlings continued last year in Altenrhein in Switzerland. We were among the last residents left in our summer community. It was late October. So what if the tree was inside someone’s boundary? It would have been so wasteful not to reach over… aaah there again that slightly illicit sense.
Last year was a hard winter here. The fig trees planted by the optimists who feel the Mediterranean climate moving north were cut to the ground by the cold – but – optimists themselves – are shooting again.
Dark purple-skinned figs with crimson centres, pale gold-skinned figs, green-skinned with amber centres, small almost-black figs… all sweetness and texture.
The first fresh figs are coming into the supermarkets in Switzerland – from Turkey. In a couple of weeks, they’ll be dropping from the trees in Croatia.
By the time they’re ripe on the optimists’ trees here, we’ll be back watching the leaves burst out on our New Zealand tree.
For me they’re perfection just as they are…. But if you wanted to add something on the plate… creamy blue cheese and a drizzle of runny honey is pretty good. So are walnuts or almonds – a heavier crunch to counter-point the tender bite of the fig seeds. A little parma ham or prosciutto goes well too – with the saltiness and the sweetness duetting deliciously. For guests, you might want to cut the figs in halves or quarters, leaving the stem end uncut so you can open them out flowerlike. But privately, just splitting them apart from the blunt end with a gentle pull of your thumbs… ah tactile joy.
And – how can something so wonderful not be good for you!
Eat a fig and feel your blood pressure go down. It’s not just the relaxation of indulgence – it’s the high levels of potassium. You could even feel your bones strengthening. Dried figs contain an impressive 250mg of calcium per 100g, compared to whole milk with only 118mg.
Figs are amongst the most highly alkaline foods, making them useful in balancing the pH of the body. They’re one of the highest fruit sources of fibre too. No wonder our collective great-grandmothers would urge “a good feed of figs is what you need”.
I didn’t know until I started reading, that fig-leaves are also good. They’re said to lower the amount of insulin required by diabetics, and they’re a folk-remedy against ulcers. Just chew a couple of leaves in the morning, they say. I tried. They’re great. In your nose and mouth, there’s that strong perfume you get when you reach into sun-warmed branches for the fruit. There’s a slightly astringent after-taste – very pleasant. You can make a tea too – boil the leaves for around 20 minutes – against bronchitis and asthma.
So – the one of the most delicious of fruits is also a health-treasure. But I never want to think of eating a fig because it’s “good for me”. Let’s stay with the other, richer, sensually decadent ideas a ripe fig plants in my mind.